Marvin Marinovich thought he knew how you pass down your values to your kids. 

He may have tried harder than any parent in history

Recognized as a training guru in the 1960s, he became the NFL’s first strength and conditioning coach. He opened an athletic training research center and pioneered training methods still in use over fifty years later. If you’ve ever done “core” training, you have Marinovich to thank. He invented it. Impressive resumé.

His parenting resumé? Not so much.

On July 4, 1969, Marvin became the father of Todd Marinovich. Long before Baby Marinovich was born, dad determined that his son would be the greatest quarterback of all time. “The question I asked myself was, ‘How well could a kid develop if you provided him with the perfect environment?‘” This obsession made Todd less a son and more a lab experiment.

Training Todd began before he was born. (Really.) It continued from crib to college, earning Todd the nicknames “Robo QB” and “Test-Tube Athlete.” His entire upbringing revolved around being a quarterback. 

  • Dietary restrictions before he was born. 
  • Daily training before he could walk. 
  • A team of football tutors was soon in place. 

Sports Illustrated ran a story titled “Bred To Be A Superstar.”

✱ Todd Marinovich’s unremarkable eight-game NFL career ended abruptly after a series of interceptions and failed drug tests.

Passing down your family values is a tricky business

Many parents dream of their children being doctors, lawyers, or taking over the family business. Some dream of Johnny being a scholar, an athlete, a world-class cellist, or graduate from their alma mater. But what about their kid’s dreams? What about the values and character qualities parents want to instill in their children? How do parents pull that off? (One way that Marvin Marinovich was successful was demonstrating that our kids can’t be programmed.) 

How do you go from desiring values to developing them?

Whether you realize it or not, you’re already doing it. As the saying goes, “More is caught than taught.” The life you live in front of your children is the best tool you have as parents for passing down values. Ask yourself, “What did I pass down today?” If we could rewind today and watch it, what would be today’s life lessons?

Kids are sensory sponges. They see and hear everything and soak it all up. Your kids watch where you put your energy, efforts, and resources. They pick up on your attitude. They hear how you talk to people. Your children watch dutifully to see how you fulfill your duties as spouse and parent. It’s not a question of “if” you are passing down your values; it’s more a matter of “what” values you are passing down.

This doesn’t mean you have to be a perfect parent.

Trudi Marinovich, a collegiate swimmer, and athlete in her own right, was also an art lover. She exposed her son Todd to jazz and classical music, art-house movies, and regularly took him with her to art museums. She simply lived her love of art.

Despite Trudi and Marvin’s divorce when Todd was a teen, her influence on Todd was indelible. Although Marvin only had football aspirations for his son and tried to program him from before birth to be a quarterback, Todd surprisingly chose a Fine Arts major when he enrolled at USC—not a major you would expect for the NFL’s “next big thing.”

Todd Marinovich made ESPN’s list of “Top 25 Sports Flops.” Marvin Marinovich was listed #2 on ESPN’s “Worst Sports Parents In History.” Trudi (now Trudi Benti) is reduced to a footnote in stories about Todd, but which parent successfully passed down their values?

Today, Todd paints. 

And plays bass guitar, loves concerts, and runs an online art gallery. 

Listen, there is no formula. There are no guarantees. But there is the life you live in front of your kids. You may not be passing down the values you think you are, but you can be sure your example speaks volumes. Forcing your dreams onto your kids may backfire. Live out your values and passions. Leave room for them to dream their own dreams as you love and support them.

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